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A Look At San Gabriel Mission’s Historical Significance Following Weekend Fire

Ernesto Salas, chief of a group of Kizh Nation Indians leads a ceremony honouring their ancestors beside the statue of Father Junipero Serra which stands in front of the San Gabriel Mission in San Gabriel, California on September 23, 2015 moments after visiting Pope Francis made the controversial Spanish Missionary a Saint while celebrating the first canonization on U.S. soil during a Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC.  Some fifty different tribes in California have condemned the sainthood conferred on Serra, according to Deborah Miranda, author of "Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir," a book about her ancestors' experiences in the Spanish missions and member of the Ohlone Costanoan Esselen Nation of California. AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN        (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images
View of the front entrance of the San Gabriel Mission.

The blaze that gutted the historic San Gabriel Mission early Saturday morning appears to have started in the church's choir loft before darting up the roof, destroying most of it, according to a city fire official.

The blaze that gutted the historic San Gabriel Mission early Saturday morning appears to have started in the church's choir loft before darting up the roof, destroying most of it, according to a city fire official.

The choir loft, a 250-square foot area that housed the pipe organ, is now the focal point for investigators who are considering arson as a possible cause, said Capt. Antonio Negrete of the San Gabriel Fire Department.

"Pretty much everything below (the loft) was smoke and water damage," Negrete said. "All the fire damage was on the second floor and so that's how they came to the conclusion that that is where the fire initiated."

Negrete said there was no sign of forced entry into the mission, other than by fire crews who charged through the front door and who also broke the lock on the exterior door to the second floor.

An electrical issue has not been ruled out but it is unlikely to have anything to do with a recent renovation to the church interior, according to Negrete. He said no work was done on the electrical system and that updates were largely "aesthetic," including the refurbishing of the original pews. (He said the pews sustained water and smoke damage and look salvageable.) He said investigators hope to determine the cause of the fire in the coming week.

Today on AirTalk, we discuss the latest and look at the church through a historical lens. Do you have thoughts? Call 866-893-5722. 

For more on the fire, go to LAist.com

Guests:

Steven Hackel, professor of history at the University of California, Riverside; chairperson of Mission San Gabriel Conservancy’s Museum Committee

Richard White, professor emeritus of history at Stanford University, his latest book, with his son and photographer Jesse Amble White, is “California Exposures: Envisioning Myth and History” (W. W. Norton & Company, 2020)

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